On The Wrong Side Of Freedom: It’s Time The Indian Media Grew Up

by Shruti Bakshi - Jan 20, 2017 02:49 PM +05:30 IST
On The Wrong Side Of Freedom: It’s Time The Indian Media Grew UpIndian media
Snapshot
  • We have probably the ‘free-est’ media in the world, where often the meaning of freedom is stretched to such an extreme as to poke holes in the very national fibre of the country.

    One soldier’s grievance, which can and should be handled privately and locally, is being used an as excuse to demoralise the entire army by a large section of the media.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela.

After almost 200 years of a tyrannical British rule, we became a free country 70 years ago. Officially, that is. More accurately, India was anyway under foreign occupation for about 800 years before the British invaded. So it would be more accurate to say that after about a thousand years of foreign rule, we finally became free in 1947.

Free to form our own government. Free to establish our own institutions. Free to manage our own affairs. Free to own our land and property. Not only that, we also became free to do as we please. Free to question as we wish. Free to not clean up after ourselves. Free to keep our surroundings as we wish, regardless of any norms. Free to reproduce as we want. Looking back over the last 70 years, we have exercised our freedom rather like rebellious adolescents. After a thousand years of occupation, perhaps that was the natural impulse but it’s now time we grew up into mature adults.

The trouble is that we Indians, want to take most things to heart, also took our independence rather personally. Getting quite carried away with this new notion of freedom, we chose to express it – as we do most things, for instance religious beliefs –in our individual ways. We understood freedom to mean – “I can do and say whatever I want as long as it’s legal, and dare anyone stop me because I am FREE goddammit!And should anyone else (nevermind with equal freedoms) say anything against what I am saying or doing, then they are just ‘intolerant'.” Where one person’s intolerance ends and another’s begins is an enigma that must surely require the understanding of some complex mathematics.

As a consequence, we have probably the ‘free-est’ media in the world, where often the meaning of freedom is stretched to such an extreme as to poke holes in the very national fibre of the country – case in point being the latest media campaign regarding ‘the state of our soldiers’. One soldier’s grievance, which can and should be handled privately and locally, is being used an as excuse to demoralise the entire army by a large section of the media. Then there is the favourite media sport of taking shots at anyone or anything that attempts to take pride in our rich cultural past. Labels like ‘Hindutva’ and ‘bhakts’ are promptly slapped on to decry any attempt to support our wise and ancient heritage. It’s like they secretly wish the British never left. And to think that the media was once the driving force behind our independence movement.

Granted, US media is also vicious and unrelenting often, but their attacks are restricted to political parties and individuals and don’t target the country itself. The ease with which the disastrous Iraq war was glossed over by the American media is quite opposite in meaning and effect to the same ‘it never happened’ stance adopted by our own media regarding the surgical strikes against Pakistan in September 2016. Having lived for several years in Europe, I can safely say that our media is by far the most ‘free’ even in that comparison, often to the point of stepping on the toes of the majority in the country.

While we cherish to bits the freedom we have gained, we have completely neglected the framework within which the freedom should be exercised if it is to be a force for good and not perversely manipulated for vested and/or wayward interests. And that framework is national interest. It is the ‘country’ that has won freedom and ‘individual’ freedoms must need to be secondary to this fact. Without bearing this guiding factor constantly in mind, we are wont to, like we are presently doing, clash in our interests and fail miserably in understanding where one person’s freedom ends and another’s begins.

Our freedom is no longer a new toy that we can be excused for being so enamoured with it that we want to try to use it every which way possible. Our childish exploration should make way for a careful and responsible handling and understanding of its proper use. It’s about time we matured in our thinking and used our hard-fought freedom for the highest national good and unity.

If we are more interested in exercising personal freedoms at any cost, then this country has also shown the way for that goal which falls within another domain entirely – spiritual liberation or mukti. Let’s not try to apply this principle of personal inner freedom in the wrong direction i.e. externally, at the expense of national pride and progress.

Shruti Bakshi is a finance professional holding an MBA from INSEAD and an MPhil from Cambridge University. Twitter: @shruti_paris

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